Two weeks later

Cadfael was keeping an eye on one of his remedies that was boiling in its cauldron, when he heard the crunching of footsteps on the gravel path that led to his workshop. However, he could not afford to leave his mixture without supervision, so he did not turn when the door opened, nor did he react to the sound of heavy boots treading on the wooden floor. The newcomer stopped just behind the monk.

"It's nice to see you back, Hugh," Cadfael said.

There was a silence, and he could picture his friend raising an eyebrow, although he could not see him. "How did you know it was me?" Beringar eventually asked. "No one told you I was coming, did they?"

Hearing the suspicion in Hugh's voice, the monk hid a smile. "No, but the brethren don't wear boots", he explained as he removed his mixture from the fire. Now, he just needed to stir it until it cooled down. "Careful," he warned, "that's boiling hot."

Hugh moved back and Cadfael set the cauldron on his workbench. Then they both sat, and the monk poured them some wine. His friend sipped happily from his glass, thirsty after his long ride. He had obviously not been home yet, for he still moved stiffly and his clothes were dusty.

"Things were quiet during my absence, according to Father Radulfus," Beringar commented absent-mindedly. "What is that smelly concoction for?"

Cadfael raised an eyebrow. "Why, it's for you. Works wonders for impertinence, young man."

If he had expected his friend to assume a guilty look, he would have been disappointed; all he got was a grin.

"Then you should save some for the King's court. Some of these lords I would gladly throttle."

"So, how did your audience with the King go?" Cadfael asked, his curiosity getting the better of him.

Hugh shrugged. "Better than expected, actually. I half-expected to be thrown in the dungeons for not meeting Stephen's expectations, but he seemed pleased."

"Pleased? Why?" questioned Cadfael, surprised.

"We didn't bring back the information he wanted, but our mission was not totally fruitless. By the way, I got news from Dewydd."

"How so?"

"Owain sent an emissary to Stephen. It seems our Welsh prince did not appreciate Gloucester's attempt to blackmail him. He offered the King to back him up if there was fighting near his borders. He won't ride too far away from Wales, but in any case, he still makes a very powerful ally. The emissary mentioned both our names, he wanted to thank us again on Owain's behalf."

"And what did he say about Dewydd?" insisted Cadfael, who cared little for thanks - even princely ones.

A smile played on Hugh's lips. "Impatient, aren't you?" He was answered with a glare. "He is well, and he wants to marry Gwendolyn."

Cadfael snorted but said nothing, and his friend seemed disappointed at his lack of reaction.

"What, don't tell me you expected that, too?"

"Actually, I did," the monk smirked. "Didn't you see how they looked at each other?"

Hugh shrugged. "It seemed to me more like a fraternal relationship. I guess you can see that kind of things better than me... Brother."

Cadfael harrumphed in answer. "Of course I do. I am twice your age."

His friend chuckled, then rose to his feet. "Well, I don't mean to be rude, but all I wish for right now is a bath and a bed. Do come over sometime soon, though. Giles doesn't see enough of his godfather, and I think Aline misses you, too."

"I'll ask the Abbot", the monk promised as he accompanied Hugh to the door. "I'm glad you took the time to come by, although I suspect it was more for my wine than for me."

"For both, Brother", Beringar corrected him with a smile. "For both."

Cadfael gazed for a few seconds at the retreating back of his friend, then got back inside the workshop. His mixture had now cooled down enough for him to bottle it. It had been two weeks since Cadwaladr had been stopped, and over ten days since he had been back at the Abbey, and he still did not have the answer he was looking for. But for now, he was happy enough in the shelter of his workshop, in the peace of the abbey. After all, what more could he ask for?